President Adama Barrow of the Gambia will serve the constitutionally mandated five-year term in office and will defy pressure from his opponents and activists to call early elections, Tourism Minister Hamat Bah said on Saturday.
Addressing a political meeting in Brikama, West Coast Region, organised by the President’s Fan Club and attended by thousands of Gambians, Mr Bah said the president will disregard a key part of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2016 by all coalition parties who united before the polls.
Seven opposition parties united behind Barrow in the run up to the polls, which enabled him to unseat long serving Yahya Jammeh who had ruled the Gambia for over two decades.
But despite his earlier promises to only serve for a three-year transition period after winning elections, the president is reported to have had a change of heart and is considering forming his own political party to contest future elections.
And according to Hamat Bah, leader of the National Reconciliation Party (NRP), which united behind Barrow and is part of the coalition government, the president will not call fresh elections until the end of his term in 2021.
“President Barrow is the president of the Gambia and would remain president until 2021. This is not in doubt,” he said.
“You [the president] were given a certificate of return by the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission saying you have been elected for five years and no one can undo that in this country.”
Mr Bah said the government is not panicking about a recently formed Three Years Jot Nah Movement, which is intending to launch nationwide protests to force the president to respect the 2016 agreement.
He added: “We are not worried about people wanting to go out and protest. We are in a democracy and they have a right to do that but they must follow the due process. The law is here for everybody and no one will be mistreated or manhandled as long as they respect the laws of this land.
“We are not panicking or worrying about Three Years Jot Nah. We will remain solid and firm on the ground. We will maintain security and protect Gambians at every level in this country. No body is above the law and President Barrow will never waiver from his responsibility to protect and preserve the integrity of this country.
He warned that while the government will not restrict the right of the protesters, it will not sit by and watch the destruction of public and private properties.
“The responsibility of every government in the world is to defend the integrity of the state, public and private properties and this government will not fail Gambians in ensuring their peace and security,” he said.
“Every citizen has a right to demonstrate and will be given a right to demonstrate and do what you want to do as prescribed by law but don’t think that anyone can distract us or move this government an inch.
“Gambians let’s rethink again. Democracy goes with responsibility. Every citizen has a responsibility to his country and we cannot abandon these responsibilities because we are ignorant of them or because we do not want to follow the due process of the law. President Barrow will remain firm and he is firm and decisive and will deal with anything that comes to his table fully in accordance with the laws of the land without waivering one inch of his life. Be sure of that. The security forces are at his disposal, he is the commander in chief of the armed forces and he will use them in accordance with the law to protect and preserve this country’s integrity. People must understand that. This is not a child’s play.”
Commenting on the current state of opposition parties in the country, Mr Bah, who was an opposition leader for 20 years during which he was the subject of mock and ridicule by the previous regime of Yahya Jammeh, accused opponents of the president of having a fixation with the president and instead of the bread and butter issues of the country.
He said: “The unfortunate thing in this country is that the opposition is failing in its responsibilities. I read an editorial in the Standard Newspaper and it said it all. Today, the media is the opposition. The opposition has failed in its responsibility. Let me give you an example, all what they talk about is the presidency and President Adama Barrow to the extend that they are not challenging Adama Barrow’s government and ministers. They are only talking about wanting to be president.
“You have to talk about issues that affect the lives and wellbeing of the people. You have to take the government to task and make them buckle up and do the right thing. That’s the role of a genuine opposition in any country but it is not happening in this country. It is always about the presidency and Adama Barrow every time you read a newspaper.
“Yes it is easy to insult Adama Barrow. Every body wants to be president overnight. An opposition party has a role to play and that’s why you are recognised and given rights by law. You got to know your job. How can an opposition member stand in public and say [the president must serve] three years when you know the law that protects you and gives you the right to criticise the president says its five years.
“Is that ignorance or nonentity? We need a credible opposition that would advance our democracy, move this country and put this government on its toes to deliver on the dividend of democracy for the Gambian people. Not an opposition that is castigating people, the president and the presidency, which is one of the highest public institution in the land and deserves respect at every level.”
The former National Assembly Member for Upper Saloum used the opportunity to remind Gambians about the dangers of political instability.
He urged them to cast their minds back to what happened during the political impasse in 2016 and early 2017, when some over hundred thousand Gambians fled the country as refugees resulting in some people dying whilst trying to flee.
“You cannot remember that just two years ago? Now you want to allow some body to come and destabilise this country, which has been chosen as the best place to invest, for us to create jobs and a middle class society, improve on the economy and give you a better life. Under Barrow everyone is free to do what you want to do as long as it’s within the law. Let’s please remain united and committed to our country. We can have our political differences but it should not be the means to our destruction.”